Even the most twisted modern executive’s fantasies of corporate power cannot compare with the reality of the English East India Company. Difficulties with an intractable foreign government? Arm your employees, turn your offices into fortresses, and attack on the flimsiest pretext. Competition? Eliminate it by force or, better still, legislation backed by force. Corruption at the highest level? By all means!
The E.I.C.’s peculiar trajectory almost defies exaggeration. By what strange historical alchemy did homely Elizabethan opportunists become imperial overlords? Or, in pseudo-dramatic business-school-case-study-speak: “As Richard, Marquess Wellesley, swirled his triumphal brandy, surveying Delhi from the heights of the Red Fort, he wondered: How had benighted middle-class traders supplanted the Mughal Empire?” William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy makes sense of the E.I.C. and the political and economic conditions that enabled its curious ascent.